NNS: Jeffrey Earnhardt Excels In New Arena

The first thing that came to mind when I saw the pictures of Jeffrey Earnhardt was, "OMG, they must have Photoshopped these."

But no, the 23-year-old grandson of the late Dale Earnhardt, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s nephew, is every bit that buff. As in, Carl-Edwards-cover-of-"Men’s Health"-magazine, six-pack-exposed kind of buff.

“It’s amazing what good photography can do, right,” Earnhardt says with a laugh. “Actually, I didn’t train real hard other than like two months — probably two months of solid everyday training. But it’s pretty crazy what you can accomplish in two months ’cause it’s probably the best shape I’ve ever been in my life.”

Earnhardt, who wrestled at Mooresville (N.C.) High School, later became a fan of mixed martial arts. At the urging of friends, Earnhardt began with the workouts and discovered he “really enjoyed it.”

“They thought I was good enough to do a fight and asked if I’d be interested,” Earnhardt said. ““I’m really competitive, so I wasn’t going to say, ‘No.’”

So Earnhardt decided to climb into the cage himself.

On May 22, Earnhardt made his debut in an amateur MMA match in Charlotte, N.C.

Earnhardt won the event, titled “Fight Labs 25,” in a unanimous decision against Chris Faison. Earnhardt described the experience “like cramming in a whole entire race into nine minutes. It was more intense than driving a race car.”

Earnhardt didn’t change his diet at all before the fight. He just monitored his daily intake of food and fluids as he attempted to reach fighting weight of 125 pounds. But two weeks before his match, Earnhardt raced in Talladega in both a Truck and Nationwide series race.

“I was right in the middle of training when I had to go down to Talladega,” Earnhardt said. “I feel like I was in much better shape for that race. The heat for that race was pretty intense, and none of it seemed to bother me. We had a great performance that day. We (had) to start dead last (in the Nationwide) race ’cause it rained out qualifying. We ran in the top 15 all day — even in the top 10 for a while.”

Then Earnhardt was collected in the 10-car melee on the last lap and finished 25th.

Earnhardt is hoping for better luck in this weekend’s Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway, driving for Rick Ware Racing.

“I do pretty decent at restrictor-plate racing,” Earnhardt said. “I got a seventh-place finish in the Truck race at Daytona (in 2011) and finished 19th there in the Nationwide race (in July) last year. We didn’t have the best car, but 19th wasn’t bad for a last-minute decision to run that race. Talladega, we ran well but got taken out at the end of the race — that’s just Talladega. There wasn’t anything we could do about it. You know there’s going to be a wreck, and we just happened to get caught up in it.

“As a team, we do pretty well on restrictor-plate tracks. We’re going to Daytona with a much better car this time — than even our Talladega car that we ran really good with. I’m really looking forward to what this car can do.”

Earnhardt will be carrying the Tobacco Free Florida message on his No. 15 Ford for the Subway Jalapeno 250. Earnhardt went to Florida two weeks before the race to promote Daytona’s smoke-free grandstands and bring awareness to race fans on the dangers of smoking — quite a departure from when Winston sponsored NASCAR’s top tour.

Earnhardt feels that his commitment to a healthy lifestyle plays well with the Tobacco Free Florida partnership. He will also carry the message at Homestead.

As far as his next cage match, Earnhardt will hit the “Renegade” gym as soon as he returns to Charlotte. This time he wants a full three months to “be really, really prepared” for his next match — and his next race.

“As soon as I get finished with all the sponsorship appearances I have lined up, I’m going to get back to the gym and start training some more,” Earnhardt said. “I want to stay in shape because it will help racing the car — it’s a lot tougher than people realize.

“I don’t want to stop training because I’d like to get another fight. I felt like I was well-prepared for the last one, but I always want to get even better. It will make the fight easier the harder and longer I train.”